Blast hits U.N. monitor convoy; Annan plans to return to Syria as civil war looms

Wounded Syrian soldiers were evacuated following a roadside bomb attack which targeted their convoy as they escorted the U.N. peace observers. (AFP)

A large explosion hit cars accompanying United Nations ceasefire monitors in the southern Syrian province of Deraa on Wednesday, injuring eight Syrian guards, a pro-government news channel said.

The U.N. observers’ chief Robert Mood was in the convoy during the explosion, but neither he nor any of the other observers were hurt. But Addounia television said the explosion happened in front of them and damaged cars, including one belonging to Syrian state media.

“It is imperative that violence in all its forms must stop,” Mood was quoted by observer spokesman Neeraj Singh as saying.

“We remain focused on our task,” Singh told AFP, adding that the total number of observers in Syria now stands at 70.

The Syrian National Council opposition bloc quickly accused the Syrian regime of being behind a blast.

“We believe the regime is using these tactics to try to push the observers out amid popular demands to increase their numbers,” SNC executive committee member Samir Nashar told AFP.

Troops pounded a rebel hideout near Damascus as renewed violence across Syria killed at least three people on Wednesday, among them two soldiers and one civilian, a rights watchdog said as U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan plans to return to Damascus in coming weeks.

Residents of Duma, about 13 kilometers (eight miles) from the capital, reported heavy shelling since dawn and bursts of gunfire in the town, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, security forces carried out raids and arrests in the villages of al-Safira and al-Hisan.

Syrian troops killed at least 23 people in fighting across Syria on Tuesday, activists told Al Arabiya, in a 14-month-old revolt that the Red Cross and Arab League warned was deteriorating into a civil war.

Annan to go back to Damascus

U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan. (Reuters)

Meanwhile, Annan’s planned trip to Syria will depend on events in Syria, where Annan is trying to convince Assad to implement a peace plan, Annan’s spokesman Ahmed Fawzi told AFP on Tuesday.

Annan told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday of his plan to carry out a second trip to Syria since he was named special envoy.

There is no indication yet of the timing of the trip, Fawzi told AFP, but it would “certainly not” be in coming days.

“I would say weeks but all depends on what we hear from Damascus,” he said in a written statement.

Annan went to Damascus on March 9-10 to meet Assad shortly after being named joint envoy by the U.N. and Arab League. Assad later agreed a six-point peace plan but the envoy says it has not been implemented.

Dozens of U.N. military observers are now in Syria monitoring a cessation of hostilities that started on April 12 but has barely held with government and opposition groups continuing attacks.

According to diplomats, Annan told the Security Council on Tuesday that his peace plan may be the “last chance” to avoid civil war in Syria as Assad’s forces pursue attacks on civilians.

Speaking to reporters in Geneva after briefing the U.N. Security Council via video link, Annan said there were “worrying episodes of violence by the government” in Syria as well as attacks by the opposition in violation of the truce. He described a recent spate of bombings as “really worrying.”

He urged Damascus and the rebels to revive the truce.

“There is a profound concern that the country could ... descend into full civil war and the implications of that are quite frightening,” he said. “We cannot allow that to happen.”

Syria has not implemented any of the Annan plan

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said after the council meeting that “the Syrian government has not implemented fully any of the six points of the Annan plan.”

“The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance,” Rice said.

Free Syrian Army fighters patrol a street in Qusair town near Homs city, northern Syria. (Reuters)

“We are increasing our support to unify and strengthen the opposition through non-lethal assistance.”

The United States has said it is already giving the Syrian opposition logistical and communications help, but it has shied away from providing arms.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said fighting had been so intense in some parts of Syria that it was starting to look like civil war in some places.

Jakob Kellenberger told reporters in Geneva that he was very worried about conditions in Syria, where unarmed United Nations observers are being deployed to monitor a ceasefire agreement that has been repeatedly violated by both state forces and by rebels.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, however, was optimistic. “Things are moving on in a positive direction. Many obstacles, but I think they can be overcome,” he said.

Positive trend on ground

Syrian Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari addresses the U.N Security Council . (Reuters)

The United States and European members of the Security Council have said they would urge the Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria if it does not fully withdraw its heavy weapons and troops from Syrian towns and stop the fighting. But Russia and China have hinted they would veto any sanctions move.

Syrian U.N. envoy Bashar Jaafari also spoke of a “positive trend on the ground” and blamed foreign powers for the violence.

Jaafari displayed a CD that he said contained 26 confessions from Arabs who were caught in Syria and had come from Libya, Tunisia and elsewhere through Turkey and Lebanon “to perpetrate terrorist acts in Syria.” He said another 15 foreign fighters had been killed by Syrian security forces.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called for continued support of Annan’s plans and expressed similar concerns over civil war.

Beyond the ceasefire and monitoring mission, Annan’s plan also calls for free access for journalists, humanitarian aid access and political dialogue between the government and opposition. So far, 60 of some 300 monitors have arrived with the whole team expected to be assembled by the end of May.

The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed by state forces trying to crush the revolt against four decades of rule by Assad and his father, Hafez al-Assad.

The government says the rebels are terrorists steered by foreign powers and more than 2,600 police and army personnel have been killed.

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